Istanbul, Part Five – Hagia Sophia & Shoeshine Scammers

“Experience is the worst teacher. It always gives the test first and the instruction afterward.”  – Benjamin Franklin 

On what I thought was to be my last day in Istanbul this trip, I headed over to see one of the highlights that I had yet to visit, the Hagia Sophia.

Before I went there, I stopped off at a cafe that Anastasia showed me to have one of my favorite dishes from Turkey, menemen.   Menemen is a dish made with eggs that are either scrambled or fried but usually they are slightly runny.  The key is that it is cooked with peppers, onions, tomatoes, and lots of spices if you’re lucky.

The Hagia Sophia started as a basilica during Constantine’s reign.  Then it was a mosque, and now it is a museum.

I was blown away at the sheer scale, yet again, of the building once I was inside.  It is about 180 feet from the floor to the spire inside.  And even with a super wide lens it was tough to capture it properly.  Still, it’s an amazing sight to behold in person.

I walked around for a while before heading back to pack for Ephesus.  On the way to the ferry, it happened.  I am usually very alert when I am traveling and will walk away if things seem really fishy.  I was thinking about all the things I needed to do before I left that evening, but still caught a glimpse as a guy crossed the traffic behind me.

He stepped around me and was starting to walk ahead of me when the brush from his shoeshine kit fell off the back.  I was raised to be helpful and nice to others and I’d like to think most of that part of my upbringing stuck.  So I grabbed the brush and handed it to the man.  He said thank you and insisted that I let him clean my shoes in appreciation.

I said no, but he set his stuff down and pulled my shoe up onto his kit.  My shoes were still suffering from the desert in Jordan so they really could use a cleaning.  But all I had was my fare for the ferry and a big bill, neither of which I was going to give to the man.  I decided that I would let him brush the dirt off and be on my way.

As he moved from brushing the dirt off to a quick scrub, I realized that he was moving into full blown scam mode.  He started the hard sell about his family at home and tried to sell it so hard that you could tell it was just a rehearsed line.  I told him that I had no lira for him as I was taking the bus that evening and was walking around to pass the time because I had no money.

He looked at me for a moment, asked again if I had lira, and finally accepted my story.  I told him no before he started, so it isn’t like I walked up to request a service and then balked on paying.  Besides, if his appreciation for me helping him had been genuine then he wouldn’t have been asking for lira.

When I got back to G’s place, I told him about the shoeshine guy.  He was very proud of me for not paying the guy and then explained that the scam is very prominent around the city.  Apparently, it’s a big racket to prey on tourists.  I was thrilled that I didn’t lose money to it, even if it meant a little fibbing.

I packed up my bag that evening and headed to the bus station for the overnight ride to Ephesus.  I didn’t get out for a long time that day, but I was so glad I went to Hagia Sophia.  Below are a couple of my favorite images from the day.


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